The Witcher Hands-On - Combat and the Early Game

This fantasy role-playing game will deliver an intriguing antihero and a rich setting. It also has a deep and fast combat system.


The Witcher is a fantasy role-playing game that we've been looking forward to for a few years now. Based on the novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, The Witcher lets you play as his famous antihero, Geralt of Rivia. Geralt is a witcher, or a professional monster slayer in a medieval world that's full of intrigue and skullduggery. With The Witcher finally arriving near the end of the month, we got our hands on a near-final version of the game to check it out.

Facing off against giant monsters and hordes of underlings is going to happen a lot in The Witcher.
Facing off against giant monsters and hordes of underlings is going to happen a lot in The Witcher.

The game kicks off with a fairly lengthy cinematic that shows off Geralt's capabilities. Charged with saving a princess who is under a curse that turns her into a monster that comes out at night, Geralt uses the cursegiver as live bait to lure the princess out of hiding (the bait dies). He then uses a combination of swordplay, magic, and acrobatic ability to battle the monster. After battling, he reaches her sarcophagus before she does and seals himself inside of it. When dawn breaks, the curse is lifted and the lovely lass saved. That basically sums up Geralt: a ruthless killing machine that is also something of a ladies' man.

The story picks up some years after a massive war where Geralt apparently disappeared. (The Witcher picks up after the last and final Geralt novel, though you needn't have read it to understand what's going on. That's a good thing because the first book has only recently been translated to English.) Somehow he has returned sans his memory and rescued by the handful of remaining witchers left in the world. The witchers have holed up in Kaer Morhen, an abandoned castle in the middle of a vast forest. However, their time in the sanctuary is short-lived because a sorcerer accompanied by a giant preying-mantis creature called a frightener, as well as a small army of thugs and goons, attack the castle to steal the witchers' potent potions.

One of the interesting things about The Witcher is that there are two different ways to play the game. There's the traditional top-down isometric view that's similar to those found in other RPGs, such as Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights. But there's also a close-to-the-ground camera that's more reminiscent of massively multiplayer online role-playing games, such as World of Warcraft. No matter what you select, you can easily switch to the other selection in the settings, so you can experiment.

The opening level is about defending the castle, which introduces you to The Witcher's combat system. The Witcher isn't like a lot of RPGs where combat is a fairly passive affair and you tell your character to attack an opponent then sit back, waiting for the battle to end. You have an active role during each and every swordfight in the game. When in combat, Geralt draws his sword and you can use double-clicks to make him leap forward or do acrobatic maneuvers, such as flips to the side. You click on opponents to initiate attacks, and then click again if the icon turns into a fiery sword, which indicates that you can chain combo attacks together to inflict even greater damage. However, you have to be quick because the moment of opportunity closes quickly. At the same time, you simply can't mash the mouse button frantically, because clicking too quickly can throw off Geralt's timing. Combat basically becomes a rhythm. If an enemy is stunned, then you can execute a perfect finishing move by clicking once more on the target. Finishing moves that we saw included Geralt leaping atop a foe and driving his sword into his chest, as well as cutting an enemy's legs out from under him then slitting his throat when he fell to his knees.

Sword styles are another facet of the combat that you have to take into account. There are three to choose from: strong, fast, and group. You can switch on the fly by tapping the Z, X, and C keys, respectively. You need to switch styles based on your opponent or opponents. Are you facing a nimble, lightly armored foe? Then select fast so you can use lightning fast swings to parry with him. However, are you battling a bigger or armored foe? The light swings of the fast style are unsuitable against such an opponent; you need the slower, heavier swings of the strong fighting style instead. But what if you're battling multiple foes? Then switch to the group mode, which lets you perform more broad attacks that hit multiple opponents in a single swing.

The story and characters are interesting, and there's a whole world to explore.
The story and characters are interesting, and there's a whole world to explore.

There's a third element to combat in The Witcher: potions. Witchers are something like alchemists, so they have a variety of potions that they can drink prior to a fight, which gives them special abilities. These potions have fairly elaborate names, such "tawny oil," which restores endurance more quickly. An important element in the game will be the ability to craft potions of your own. Finally, there are signs, which are basically witchers' magical abilities. The first that you learn is the "aard" sign, which is a telekinetic force that can knock opponents off of their feet or clear debris that's blocking your path. It plays a useful role in the battle against the giant frightener, as aard can knock the monster over, buying you time to deal with the many minions who are also swarming you.

When you put it all together, combat in The Witcher is pretty tactical for an RPG. There's a fair amount of depth there, as well as a fast pace that will keep you busy. There's also plenty of room to grow as you level up. When you reach a new experience level, you can distribute points across your character but figuring out what to specialize in is going to be tough. You can boost basic attributes, such as strength and intelligence. You can improve your abilities in either the fast, strong, or group combat styles, and because witchers have two swords (a silver one for monsters; a steel one for humans), there are two sets of combat styles that you can upgrade. You can also add talents, which are like little bonus skills or abilities, such as "buzz," which lets Geralt inflict 25 percent more damage when drunk; however, his ability to parry and dodge will take a 50 percent hit. So, yes, The Witcher does feature drunken fighting.

There's more to The Witcher than combat, though. We're impressed with the early part of the game. The story and characters are intriguing, particularly the way the game is loaded with branching points where you have to make a choice that can affect the plot significantly. The Witcher looks like it's going to provide a fresh new face to fantasy role playing when it's released later this year.

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Avatar image for xxmicahxx

Game looks awesome, don't know why people have to dog on good games all the time. Getting tomorrow, very excited!

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I think PC Powerplay (Australian PC Mag) Summed it up the best. This game shows that a diamond can shine without polish. Because lets face it, this game is damn buggy and the voice acting can be shoddy at times.

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man this game simply rocks...

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May be for Polish it is a heroic thing,but they have lost their power long time ago and once did pretty nasty things in Europe,nothing to be proud of. I quite agree with godsend1989:its not Elder Scrolls.What is so beautiful about it i can't understand.The game asks for high-end pc just to see some rats running and a few bushes,terrible flesh eating plants(Fallout),above head scripts(Fallout)..This means a weak programming.If it is ranked as MATURE why does it have 3+ interface panels.Only positive thing is rendered dialogues,makes me feel more like inside the story.

Avatar image for godsend1989

in my opinion this game is a shame for all rpg games.. u will see it by yourself when u will play.From a scale 1 to 10 this is 1.. Oblivion from 1 to 10 is 100 i thing this is not even a rpg its adventure the gameplay its boring.. this is more like a dexterity game i played 10 min and then i unistal it.. if u played oblivion in the past dont botter play this, or eny other good rpg..

Avatar image for tclvis

The Sapowski book, looks like the first, called The Last Wish, is available for preorder at Amazon for 6.99USD. << LINK REMOVED >> 0316029181/ref=sr_1_7/002-7622389-5228016?ie=UTF8&s= books&qid=1194216379&sr=8-7 Meanwhile, the game itself is beautiful. I, too, am of Polish descent, so I'm glad to see the motherland turning out such awesome stuff!

Avatar image for JohnyBravoPL

Hello Everyone!! I just wanna say. I'm proud of CD Project. I'm polish. This guys show You our famous POLISH POWER :)) lol Greetings from Warsaw, Poland

Avatar image for PG213

I really like it as well. A great mixture of RPG gameplay elements, great setting and dark feel. Good graphics, engaging combat and great character evolution. Feels a bit like NwN meets fable in a dark fantasy kind off. I love how CDProject has pimped the aurora 1 engine. I really think CDPRoject deserves much praise for this game because they really deserve it.

Avatar image for nocny007

Strange but true. The Wither is amazing! I was repelled by horrible acting job at first, but the more I played, the more I liked it. Secondary characters are great and have better acting, especially guy who invited me for a drink. One drink led to another and before I noticed I was fighting with gigantic bloodthirsty plants while I could hardly stand straight. Hilarious! The world of the Witcher is full of life and it is true, that there is no thick line separating good from evil. Interface seems a bit complicated but still it works. Fights are quite exciting and the harder they are the more satisfying. System of hero's development is interesting. I have played merely for few hours, so I saw only the part of first chapter. I cannot wait to see what happens next! Funny thing: game crashes every time I play, but only when I choose to quit to Windows. Otherwise, for time being, I don't have any other issues. I wonder how you will like it.

Avatar image for WebPalantir

Agreed with shappy1010. Well.. i buyed the gamed, played and... i was think to enjoin a great game but i was wrong. This game is INCREDIBLE beauty! Videos and Screenshoots can't show that magnificent work!! (i'm sure that peoples that talk bad about it in that threadare the first that will play it. If not.... they will miss a lot :P) Congratulation CDProjekt. Wonderful work!!!

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I´ve played the game over the weekend, since it´s available here in Europe, it truly surpassed all my expectations. It´s the best RPG I´ve played in years. And this is coming from a guy who played stuff going back to Ultima, all the Bioware RPGs, Elder Scrolls etc.Mature, great story, deep characters, This truly is what NWN2 should have been.

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i have played the game in preorder vers , and i must say its a Megahit, the best rpg game i ever played, gr8 story, nice grafics, new fighting style and gr8 gameplay

Avatar image for gamers_cz

So now when i have played couple of hours, i can tell to anyone few things about the Witcher: - Aurora engine underneath was heavily modified, but its not enough for today standarts. Game look slightly better than NWN2, but slightly - Main CHaracter cant jump, he cannot make even smallest jump over one STAIR? Jesus Christ, what is that? - very frequent loading times. My God of War 2, which is thousand times better hack and slash game, has much better loading times on hundread times weaker HW like PS2 with 32megs RAM and its is streaming from DVD!!! SIC! Am giving 6/10, for good story and some nice touches.

Avatar image for Vertigem

Must have... must play... gimmee... my preciouzzzzz

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anyone know if the novel(s) are availavble in the states yet?

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Ugly game. giving 6/10 maximum - boring ugly gameplay

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Now I finnaly get my copy of The witcher...czech version named "Zaklinac" btw. collectors edition :P.....and.....this game is the best I have played last year... The Witcher is an absolutely charismatic character and other characters have their own charismas too (some are simply the best NPC's I've ever seen).....superb story-line, open world, awesome graphics, very, very nice music and fx, superb character development.................this game absolutely rocks:) and to gamers cz....This is not old KOTOR engine btw...this game runs on new aurora engine and the game is beautiful. I do not know what details u have set, but on high settings this game rocks.... << LINK REMOVED >> check me with my game:P

Avatar image for Mundos253

This is Going to be one of the best games of the year and I cant wait to get it I already have it on reserve... hehe ill find out tomorrow morning how good it is :) WOOT !!!! GO HAWKS !!! FROM THE looks of it 4.5 stars out of 5 ill report back tomorrow guys hang tight..

Avatar image for janine2005

Can't wait to play this game!

Avatar image for AviticusDSS

This game is going to own ass..

Avatar image for cybi9988

Absolutely GREAT game, everything less than 9/10 for this game is really unfair.

Avatar image for Velocitas8

Only a little over a week left until its release; this game looks awesome.

Avatar image for athenscity

Looks good but it looks like once from the same

Avatar image for Vasot

Look like a Bad a*s game

Avatar image for zima84

From Gamebanshee preview: "While I'm on the subject, let me also say that the graphics in The Witcher are easily some of the best I've ever seen in a role-playing game. The game might be powered by a 2007 version of BioWare's Aurora engine, but it's leaps and bounds beyond Neverwinter Nights. (...) The day/night cycles are particularly worth mentioning - there have been several times that I've literally just stopped to watch the incredibly lifelike sunrise and sunset. Once the sun goes down, the whole countryside is cast into darkness (aside from guards' torches and the light streaming from the windows of inhabited structures) and you'll find yourself using the moonlight or swapping your sword for a torch in order to navigate properly. Obviously, the system I quoted above is on the high end, so I also loaded the game on my nearly three-year-old Windows XP system with an FX-57 processor and a GeForce 7800GTX. The game still ran great using an above average resolution of 1920x1200 and mid-range graphical settings, which is good to know for those of you planning to install the game on an older system. It's also worth noting that the game ran without a single bug, crash, memory leak, or otherwise unwanted problem on both XP and Vista. Given the experiences I've had with other games on Vista, I'm very happy to report that CD Projekt seems to have conquered both operating systems equally. "

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long story plot, but rather intresting, how it turns out in the end is totaly another issue altogether. but it seems ok from a glance

Avatar image for WebPalantir

ehehe anyway..... who cares about gam_cz. From his first sentence "that game look 16 bit with 256x256 texture" show how deep is his knowledge about the games in general. Accuse other people to be part of CDProjekt staff cause they see the true that will never be revealed to his blinded eyes. You don't like the game? Fine. Don't buy it but don' start ridiculized yourself with your words. And go on talking about animation = engine. ehehehe omg... so funny. More more :P

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LOL gamer_cz, go away troll. And remeber - drugs are bad

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Gamer_cz: I do not judge you - the problem is that you ridicule yourself. Joystick review - a french magazine about games: "evaluation of the witcher 9/10" citation: Forget everything you know about RPG’s. Intense and deep…The Witcher is the new reference for RPG’s. Another one - also a french magazine: PC Jeux review rating: 90% Both magazines gave special rewards to the witcher for being an extraordinary game. And you know what gamer_cz - they actually played the game:) Whose perception is distorted? No, sorry, what perception? you had nothing to perceive - you simply lie trying to discourage people from buying the game.

Avatar image for gamers_cz

So, new Official video 8 only confirms my words. Clumsy animations, and combat system looks like for stupidos. Only one thing i like is that commentary is dubbed by Borats brother, those one who wasnt ripped by bear.

Avatar image for antogall

you've got to be kidding if you think the screenshots even resemble the image quality of KOTOR...this is worlds better, and, honestly, it doesn't matter that much, (the main thing I''d like to see is a little more open-endedness).

Avatar image for mr___happy

Noice. i reckon this is gonna be the real deal.

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looking forward to this :)

Avatar image for WebPalantir

Gamers_cz ... you go on spamming your non-sense on that forum. Talking about "engine" that for you is the animation. But are you real or what? Is very funny cause also from a very freaking fantasy world i can't find a creature like you. So if for you animation mean engine....if you work in pixar problably you will be a programmer -.-''' (omg please go on write cause you are so ilarious :P)

Avatar image for gamers_cz

Myprecious: I have only claimed that game The Witcher looks pretty bad. Thats overall feeling i have from what i have seen. You will see, that later when reviews will come out, many reviewers will notice poor character animations, especially NPC and Geralts too. It really looks to similar to Kotor character animation, which looks in the end VERY bad and unatural... I personally think thats because there are heavy limitations of Aurora Engine, and /or/ CDPROJEKT RED coders, animators and so on are too unexperienced to modify significantly game engine or create nice character animation. Many will agree with me, you will see.

Avatar image for Goliathvv

8 days! This game is gonna rocks really! After all, it's innovative!

Avatar image for myprecious27

Gamers_cz - The moment you publicly express your thoughts, you no longer preserve the right to be their only interpreter. So, in spite of what you claim, when you say that the witcher is not good without any convincing arguments to support your theory - you simply express your bias against the game, the company or the country of their origin. Your offensive means of expression show only the impotence of your mind. So have fun weaving what you will:) just do not touch anyone with your dirty hands:) cheers.

Avatar image for zima84

Maybe you move with this personal disccusion to forum.

Avatar image for WebPalantir

Again.. why someone go on talking about BioWare, Aurora, CDProjekt, KOTOR, Jedi and polish peoples in a bad way instead talk about the game only? Let me clear something once and for all. Like many other people around i'm just a player also if i work like freelancer in games art. But the point is... this game is a fantasy action role game play with all the quality required for a game like that. Be innovative and unique is a task very difficult for anyone. That game in my point of view hae a nice feeling concerning the environment the locations and the scene feeling. Ther animation is good and in right time. The system is role play style that mean quest up. If someone don't like that kind of game..instead talk about CDProjekt, BioWare, governament, environment pollution -.-'''' just play others and grow up a little bit. And i suggest you darling (you know i talk to you) that you problably should realease your immense Tauren power on a wall. Possibly with your empty head :P Cheers

Avatar image for myprecious27

Gamers_cz - I can assure you - I have nothing to do with CDProjekt. I am no insider of any kind. I do not need to defend the game - I think it will defend itself. Your claim about the graphics is your personal subjective opinion. I will not discuss aestestics of the game. You do not like the graphics? No problem - but you can express it in a less offensive way. It is obvious that whay you are saying is driven by some kind of inferiority complex. You are clearly prejudiced. By the way:) Why would one want to make whips from (uhm)? You call it wisdom?:)

Avatar image for gamers_cz

ooook, so i see we have here a lot of CDProjekt insiders, probably. Ok, defend your game, because CDprojekt put so much money to The Witcher. Thats why its so hyped in Eastern Europe, because it must suceede, otherwise CDPROJEKT will not make games any longer. /only distribute/ Unfortunately, it doesnt change things a lot. Bioware was never very proficient in game engine programing, so after licensing Aurora, CDprojekt stood before technically very poooor thing. In czech, we have nice common wisdom: You cant made whip from **** And that s all about. The Witcher looks like NWN2 in High Details, which is VERY POOR. Also all character animation looks exactly like in few years old KOTOR, which i sagain very Poor. THE WITCHER, which is meant he will be moving like unatural superproficient swordmaster, is moving like JEDI with broken spin and electrified and dark forced...

Avatar image for WebPalantir

Perfect myprecious27. your suggestion is wonderful But take care..problably now they will delate your message like they did with mine cause that person got the correct answer on his previous sentence. But is sure... here someone try to talk about graphic and they even don't know what thy talking about. They talk about 16 bit and texture 256x256 for that game? That is madness. That game look great and the work used on it is clearly visible. Atmosphear, feeling and final results are excellent and that blind kids try also to offend the peoples and the artist that had work in that project with passion and very high professional skills. Poor blinded kids (and please don't send me privat message with offences. No you and not your "wife". grow up)

Avatar image for koval9

As I’ve seen this game at PolCon's presentation, i must disagree with gamer_cz. Graphics is marvelous, gameplay is excellent and in case You haven't noticed this game is NOT based on the scenario taken directly from Sapkowski's books.

Avatar image for myprecious27

To gamers_cz:) my suggestion is - go and purchase some better glasses as you must be blind or sth:) after you've finished throwing up, of course:)

Avatar image for zima84

The link to gameplay I put below was made to show the side quest. The gameplay strict about combat is being prepared.

Avatar image for zima84

You can see how to prepare to combat and how it looks like on the new gameplay: << LINK REMOVED >>

Avatar image for cyw1988

Looking good so far... I am hoping it turs out well... receiving mine soon too...

Avatar image for GoFeR24

Only one week and i will have the collector's edition of this game! :D

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